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Home of slain civil rights leader to be declared national landmark

JACKSON, Miss. --  The Mississippi home of slain civil rights leader Medgar Evers is being designated a national historic landmark.

It is one of 24 sites in the U.S. given the designation Wednesday by the U.S. Interior Department, which oversees the National Park Service. The list also includes the site of the 1970 shootings on the campus of Kent State University in Ohio.

Evers was a World War II veteran and became the first Mississippi field secretary for the NAACP starting in 1954. He led voter registration drives and challenged the state’s staunchly segregated society in many ways, including leading boycotts of white merchants over their second-rate treatment of black customers in downtown Jackson.

He was assassinated June 12, 1963, outside the Jackson home where he lived with his wife, Myrlie, and their three young children.

The mint-green, ranch-style home has been on the National Register of Historic Places since 2000. It is operated as a museum by Tougaloo College in Jackson, and relies on state grants and private donations for maintenance funds.

As a national historic landmark, the home becomes eligible for grants and tax credits, said Mississippi’s two Republican U.S. senators, Thad Cochran and Roger Wicker, who both pushed for the designation.

“The National Historic Landmark designation is an important step toward recognizing and preserving significant civil rights sites in Mississippi and around the country,” Cochran said in a statement. “The sacrifices made by Medgar and Myrlie Evers deserve this distinction.”

The Interior Department’s announcement of the landmark designation said the killing of Evers was one of the catalysts for passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

“Both Medgar and Myrlie were major contributors to advancing the goals of the civil rights movement on a national level,” the announcement said. “Medgar Evers was the first nationally significant civil rights leader to be murdered.”

Myrlie Evers-Williams, who later remarried, was national chairwoman of the NAACP from 1995 to 1998.

Byron De La Beckwith, a white segregationist, was tried twice on murder charges in 1964, but all-white juries deadlocked without either convicting or acquitting him. After a renewed investigation, Beckwith was tried and found guilty of murder in 1994. He died in prison in 2001.